Ski Resorts in the Canton of Graubunden
Graubunden is Switzerland’s most easterly canton and home to some of the country’s leading ski resorts including Davos Klosters, the iconic Engadin St. Moritz and Laax. Other important ski areas include Arosa, Disentis Sedrun, Lenzerheide and St Moritz’s neighbour Pontresina.
Largely mountainous, Graubünden is Switzerland’s least populated but biggest canton and receives more tourist visitors than any other canton in Switzerland. Sometimes referred to as “Switzerland’s holiday corner” or the “land of the 150 valleys” – not to mention the canton’s 600 lakes, Graubünden is largely German speaking and located in the region where the Western and Eastern Alps meet and shares its borders with Italy, Austria and Lichtenstein.
It was in St Moritz in the autumn of 1864 that the famous Johannes Badrutt, the then owner of the venerable Kulm Hotel startled a party of British clients by suggesting that St Moritz in winter was “a good deal less cold than London”. So warm, in fact, “that we go about in shirt-sleeves”. He then issued his historic invitation, the Badrutt wagerm: “This winter you shall be my guests at the Kulm. You will not pay anything for your stay.” If they didn’t enjoy winter in St Moritz, he even offered to pay for their return journey to England. An entry in the Kulm visitors’ book records: “Far from finding it cold, the heat of the sun is so intense at times that sunshades were indispensable. The brilliance of the sun, the blueness of the sky and the clearness of the atmosphere quite surprised us.” That was it. The winter holiday was born.
Arosa, a bijou resort with horse-drawn sleighs often trundling and jingling along snowy streets to classic old hotels, is a spectacular journey from the capital, Chur (only 20 miles away but the road meanders through a long series of hairpin bends). The resort is perched at 1,800 metres at the end of the Schanfigg Valley, and has an unusually good snow record. Arosa is one of Switzerland’s most historic ski areas, although the runs rarely trouble advanced skiers. The slopes are wide and sunny, and set in a large, open bowl. Fourteen lifts serve 44 miles of mainly blue and red runs, spread out among three peaks: Hörnli, Weisshorn and Bruggerhorn. There’s some interesting off-piste on the highest slopes, and touring permutations include the chance to ski to Lenzerheide. Arosa was the scene of some of the earliest downhill skiing adventures in Switzerland, with the British the principal pioneers as long ago as 1883. But in spite of its historic background and traditional ambience, Arosa has become quite a big attraction for snowboarders.
Although they’re partly connected by ski lift (creating a truly extensive ski region) and marketed jointly, Davos and Klosters could hardly be more different from one another. Davos, the highest “real” town in the Alps (as distinct from the highest ski resort town) is celebrated as the venue for the annual World Economic Forum. It has four ski areas: most famously the Parsenn, as well as Jakobshorn, a major haunt for snowboarders; Rinerhorn (a short train ride away) and the Pischa area, now an unpisted freeride zone. Klosters is a much prettier community, with traditional Swiss chalets and, of course, strong links with the British royal family, notably the Prince of Wales, whose name is emblazoned on the side of one of the Gotschna cable cars, and who was involved in a fatal off-piste avalanche here in 1988. The Parsenn ski area is central to much of the best skiing: the runs from there down to Wolfgang and Klosters provide some of Davos Klosters most challenging slopes, and in good snow, whether natural or man-made, the runs from Parsenn down to Serneus, Saas or Küblis are among the longest in the Alps.
The Disentis Sedrun area’s main claims to fame are its location as the source of the Rhine and a historic 8th Century monastery. The otherwise little-known ski area is close to the Oberalp pass which leads to Andermatt. It would have become much better known had the Porta Alpina – a proposed underground railway station with a link to Sedrun on the Alp Transit’s Gotthard Base Tunnel (the longest rail tunnel in the world) – not been indefinitely shelved by the Swiss government in 2007. The two ski areas of Disentis and Sedrun (which is part of the Gotthard Oberalp Arena that includes Andermatt) have 200 km of slopes. Disentis attracts freeriders, off-piste enthusiasts and ski tourers, with slopes reaching up to 3,000m above sea level. There’s also more than 30 km of cross-country tracks.
Laax is part of a 138-mile ski area that’s linked with Flims and Falera. The first language here is Romansch, which explains some of the intriguing local names. Over the years Laax has built up a big reputation as a snowboarding centre, and it hosts a number of international competitions in its terrain parks and halfpipes on the Vorab glacier (3,018m) and at Crap Sogn Gion. The Riders Hotel is dedicated to boarders and freeskiers, and what’s said to be Europe’s first freestyle hall, the LAAX Freestyle Academy at Laax base station, which allows snowboarders, skiers, skaters and BMX bikers to practise moves in the safety of a padded environment. The jumps, ramps and ridges are all coated in snowflex, an indoor polymer surface. Out on the slopes, getting on for three quarters of the slopes are to be found between 2,000 and 3,000 metres, which makes for a good snow record.
The lakeside resort of Lenzerheide (1,500m) with 28 lifts (and linked with Valbella) is ideal for families, beginners and intermediates, but doesn’t have a lot to offer advanced skiers, although there are some promising off-piste possibilities. It’s a little-known fact that on possibly the only occasion Margaret and Denis Thatcher went skiing as a family, this was their choice of resort. Their daughter Carol went on to become an accomplished skier and ski journalist. It’s a charming but slightly awkward sort of place in the sense that much of the skiing takes place on both sides of a long valley between the cantonal capital Chur to the north and Tiefencastel, and the effect of this is that whether you go to the left or right, go you are continually skiing the same sort of slope down to the valley floor, without feeling that you are skiing down a conventional mountain
Pontresina, reached easily from St. Moritz by train, is the gateway to some of the most spectacular skiing in the St Moritz area. It’s a charming, sleepy, sedate, old-world town with hotels built in Victorian style, which accesses the Lagalb and Diavolezza slopes. At almost 3,000m, Lagalb has some rather bleak but testing runs, including a classic black run from top to bottom. Apart from some good off-piste skiing on the lower slopes, Diavolezza, with its own ski area, has some of the most magnificent scenery in the Engadin, with breathtaking views of the Diavolezza glacier and the chance to ski the beautiful but easy six-mile run down to Morteratsch along the glacier’s edge.
Engadin St. Moritz, as result of the “Badrutt wager,” is a household name for winter sports the world over – so much so that its name is also a registered trademark. Overlooking a big frozen lake, St Moritz is famous for many other sports apart from skiing. There’s ice-skating, curling, horse-racing, polo, cricket, golf and even skijoring: being towed on skis behind a race-horse. You can also try the Olympic bob-sleigh run (with a professional driver and brake-man) – and the world-famous Cresta toboggan run (when you’re very much on your own!). There are three main ski areas, all quite widely spread out, plus a few satellite areas. Closest to town is Corviglia, where the slopes are often sunny, and diverse enough to mean there’s no need to explore the other areas if you want to stay close to home. There some satisfyingly steep and scenic runs down from Piz Nair, at 3,057m, and the long black from the top of the funicular at Corviglia (2,486m) down to Chantarella is quite a challenge. Another black run takes you from Las Trais Fluors back to Marguns. If you do want to explore further afield, a car is handy, although there are buses and some train links. At Corvatsch, there’s some quite challenging and steep terrain between Murtel and Furtschellas.
Getting to Graubunden
Graubünden’s main gateway airports are Zurich (St Moritz 135 miles, Davos 105 miles, Disentis, Laax and Lenzerheide, 90 miles) and Friedrichshafen (St. Moritz 130 miles, Davos, Laax and Lenzerheide 95 miles). St. Moritz, Davos, Klosters, Arosa and Disentis-Sedrun all have rail links. SWISS scheduled flights to and from Zurich are frequent and competitively priced if you book early to get the cheapest fares and there are no extra charges for ski equipment.